For a player with a background in classical music, pianist Vassilis Tsabropoulos has done wonders in the realm of jazz, and specifically improvisation. He still plays with a precise, sensitive touch and measures out dissonance in carefully metered pinches, but the tidal ebb and flow that characterizes this trio recording stands as remarkable evidence that he's made the transition completely and elegantly.
Triangle is so named more for the shared space than any sort of angular edges to the music. It's most certainly rounded instead of cornered, pedaled instead of punched, introverted instead of extroverted. The other triangle that's relevant here is a geographical one bounded by the musicians' international origins: London (drummer John Marshall), Oslo (bassist Arild Andersen), and Athens (Tsabropoulos). The trio released Achirana (formally under the pianist's name) four years ago and this disc (recorded in January of 2003) is a successful followup that reveals the group's growth as a unit and the pianist's increasing flexibility within the jazz idiom.
All three musicians on Triangle are active and forward players. John Marshall (described by Andersen in terms of "power and forcefulness") favors reinforcing the beat, at least on the up-tempo tunes, more than coloring it, but his syncopation and counterpoint are anything but simple. During more pensive moments he relaxes and shows a gentler touch. Andersen, who has 15 recordings to his credit as a leader, plays with the confidence of a seasoned veteran and utilizes his deft and limber dexterity to connect the dots in counterintuitive ways.
Most of the disc has a meditative feel, even when the tempo rises above the midline. The dark, descending cycles of the group composition "European Triangle" round out a sense of suspense and mystery; but the sweeping lyricism and wandering trail of the pianist's "Simple Thoughts" feels wistful and contemplative. The opening "Straight" simmers gently; "Saturday" carries on with a related theme and twists and turns through blocks of harmony. Tsabroupolos likes to use the pedal, which generally makes the music more paced and spacious.
For a little-known group with only a couple records out, this trio plays with the confidence and lyricism beyond its nominal scale. Triangle fits very much within the high standards ECM has established for the piano trio in groups featuring Keith Jarrett, John Taylor, and Marilyn Crispell. A top pick of 2004.
Personnel: Arild Andersen (double-bass), Vassilis Tsabropoulos (piano), John Marshall (drums)